Civil Affairs & Counter Radicalisation?
No, I am not suggesting that development counters radicalisation. There is no such proof. In fact the most deadly al-Qaeda-tied terrorists have had stable and relatively wealthy and educated backgrounds. Stabilisation may help to strip passive support and $10/day warzone IED layers from the irreconcilable core. But there is no proof that stabilisation will influence violent extremists’ ability to regenerate and spread.
Instead, I am suggesting NATO boldly and openly forces communities to directly take on radicalisation in return for development. Tit for tat. Sound manipulative? That’s because it is.
In Afghanistan’s counterinsurgency environment NATO combat forces are conducting stability operations—with a strong development component to empower local communities as well as national and local governance. Stability operations in theory take best practices from development and counterinsurgency to ‘drain the swamp’ of extremists and kill the violent extremist ‘mosquitoes’ themselves. The theory goes that populaces in stable areas will be less willing to support extremism and more willing to volunteer information on enemy identities, locations, and dispositions.
But two thorns gouge NATO’s strategy. First, if ideological core Taliban and al-Qaeda leading violent extremists can continue to reproduce its number it can still continue its insurgency even without popular support especially now that there is published date (2014) to pull out Western combat forces. Second, local populaces—aware of NATO’s stability mission and aware of the impending withdrawal—may be more likely to say and do anything to get whatever money, projects, and political power NATO is handing out to communities. Locals may be pragmatically grabbing what they can while they can.
In short, NATO faces a regenerative enemy hiding among potentially exploitative communities.
So, it is vital that NATO cut off core Taliban growth (cut off the process by which a person turns to violence in the name of an ideology or ‘radicalisation/mobilisation’) and get its bang for its buck with local populations.
One possible method is by forcing communities to pay for projects not with cash, information, or loyalty; but through aggressive counter-radicalisation activities. In other words, force the locals to directly stem Taliban core growth.
Tie development (empowering and securing communities) and grassroots counter-radicalisation efforts. Development can often equate to both power and security. Any project that may help a tribal leader stay in power, a tribal leader rise to power (especially a yet-untested son of an assassinated or absent clan elder), or a community leader gather more relative power in lieu of another tribe will likely bring community leaders to the bargaining table. As a village leader increases power—through money, the ability to bring in NATO projects, or favors from legitimate government offices, for example—he is able to leverage this power into security when the time is right. More money could turn into more arms, and better liaison with government and NATO outlets could also translate into security when needed. Development can bring short and long-term honor and benefit to community leaders and their relatives and neighbors.
In return for the power and security development offers, NATO units should ask or demand local jirgas and shuras to have their communities conduct the following activities (and points can be awarded for each activity, as long as there is reasonable proof that it happened yes, it can be that straightforward and simple):
• Prevent: Have their mullahs forcefully condemn violent extremism and violent extremism in crowds, on DVDs, and on the radio with such narrative themes as (see seventhpillar.net for a full description of counter-radicalisation narratives from southwest Asia):
o Violent extremists’ ‘jihad’ is impious and unprecedented
o Violent extremist leaders lack religious and militant authority
o Violent extremists gratuitously kill innocents
o Violent extremists spur government suppression of society
o Violent extremists cause societal instability
o Violent extremists aim to destroy tribes
• Reintegrate: Reinsert and rehabilitate non-ideological insurgents and formerly ideological Taliban with recorded recantations—names can be hidden to encourage full direct renunciations and damnations of the Taliban and its leadership.
• Kill: Aggressively hunt down and kinetically target violent extremists, where and when community militias exist outside competent Afghanistan national army and police reach (jirga or shura-intiatived tashkar, tsalweshtai, arbakai, chagha, or chalweshtai movements or NATO community defense initiate local forces). This activity is more than killing insurgents since it may help to prevent young locals from ‘going Taliban.’
These individual actions pale in comparison to the probable secondary orders of effect:
• Blood feud: Once battle against Taliban elements begins or increases, tribal revenge becomes central. In the very tribal (I am using the term ‘tribe’ here to mean ‘qaum’ or community which is loosely bound by location or blood for temporary periods) Afghanistan, vengeance is a key tribal attribute as with North Africa Middle East clans. Such feuds have been known to last up to and beyond six generations. In short, such a blood feud will ensure longevity of the indigenous counter-radicalisation movement.
• Escalation: Individual visceral vengeance when militia members wish to avenge their friends and family after the fighting has already begun can escalate. And when people die for a cause, others want to struggle on in the name of the dead. A narrative used at the height of a lashkar is often the previous sacrifices of the persons in the territory whom the Taliban victimised.
• Self-preservation: Once communities choose a side, there may be no going back. In other words, the tribe has now sworn to flagrantly be an enemy of the Taliban. At this point, continuing the ‘attack’ may be a community’s only option for survival
• Regional and international information operations: The recantations and mullah statements can be information operations narratives to undermine violent extremists nation, region, and worldwide—helping to prevent young persons from radicalising. What works locally may work internationally. And critics of violent extremism in a warzone, making statements in the face of violent reprisal, may be inspiring voices.
Here’s the short-short-version-executive summary of this operational consideration: Step one is to immediately stop payment to all projects. Step two is to force communities to pay for projects in the form of distinct radicalisation activities. Step three is to sit back and watch the communities become more and more committed to these activities.
Since there is there is no clear end state in a modern world obsessed with ‘exit strategies’ instead of a definable ‘goal,’ NATO forces on the ground in Afghanistan have the opportunity to permanently undermine regional violent extremist growth. Deny Southwest Asia to violent extremists. Destroy irreconcilable violent extremists. Collapse their ideology to stop future generations.